What is Speaking in Tongues?
Speaking in tongues, also known as glossolalia, is a spiritual gift in which the gifted person speaks words in a language unknown to them, as they are empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Some Christians believe they speak in heavenly languages, or languages of angels. Others believe God gives them a personal prayer language that the Holy Spirit uses to enable them to pray. Still other Christians believe they are speaking in certain earthly languages that are not known to them.
However, some believe that God only enables certain people to hear a tongue speaker in their own earthly language, no matter what language the tongue speaker is using. The latter seems to be a closer technical match to the testimony of the visitors from around the world on the day of Pentecost:
“And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” – Acts 2:8 (ESV)
The practice of speaking in tongues can increase one’s intimacy with God, or reveal things that would otherwise be unknown to tongue speakers and interpreters. This spiritual gift also allows the Holy Spirit to pray through a person in ways—and for people or situations—they would not know how to pray for on their own.
“For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.” – 1 Corinthians 14:2 (ESV)
Speaking in Tongues Book (Free Excerpt)
Please click below to view a PDF excerpt from Called Writers Christian Publishing’s newest book (click here to get the Speaking in Tongues book on Amazon). The book was written by a husband and wife team, Matthew and Kathleen Schwab. When Chris McKinney was asked to review the manuscript, God used it to work so powerfully in his life that he ended up becoming a co-author.
Readers are welcome to download and freely share this book excerpt with others. It contains the Foreword as well as three chapters (one by each co-author).
Answers to All of Your Questions About Speaking in Tongues
Speaking in Tongues: Enjoying Intimacy With God Through Tongues and Interpretation provides clear answers to many common questions about these spiritual gifts. While much more detailed answers are given in the book, here are some short answers to common questions on Speaking in Tongues:
1) What is the purpose of speaking in tongues? The purpose of speaking in tongues is to increase one’s intimacy with the Lord, build up the body of Christ, and help others. At select times and places, it can also be a sign to unbelievers. The sign that most often manifests is that the unbeliever is enabled to hear and understand the tongue speaker in their own language. However, Scripture clearly describes and outlines other types, uses, and purposes of tongues.
2) What are the benefits of speaking in tongues? The tongue speaker is built up in various ways, and if there is an interpreter, others in the body of Christ are edified as well. People also benefit from powerful prayers that would not be possible without the gift. At select times and places, according to the will of the Holy Spirit, tongues can also be a sign to unbelievers, enabling them to see the truth of the Gospel.
3) What does speaking in tongues feel like emotionally? Some believers report highly emotional experiences, while others report no particular emotions being attached to the experience at all. Some feel a profound sense of peace. Others feel a sense of connection to and deep intimacy with the Holy Spirit. Still others have a strong sense that their faith has been increased. A single believer can report any or all of these different experiences at different times.
4) Is there a difference between speaking in tongues and praying in tongues? If so, what is the difference? Some Bible teachers believe there is a difference. As author Matthew Schwab notes, “All prayer is speaking, but not all speaking is prayer.” For example, some speaking could be thought of as “praise and worship” as opposed to strictly prayer.
Some Bible teachers also believe that most or all Christians should be able to pray in tongues through a personal prayer language, while there is a greater gift distributed by the Holy Spirit to certain individuals that allows them to speak out messages in a tongue which can be interpreted by someone with the gift of interpretation, or heard by an unbeliever in their own language (for a sign). The Bible also mentions a gift of “different kinds of tongues.”
All of that said, it’s important not to get too hung up on trying to label or categorize spiritual gifts. We should seek to understand the gifts, but we should avoid adding any requirements or restrictions that are not found in Scripture.
The Bible doesn’t really draw hard lines around definitions or even explanations of how the spiritual gifts will work. For example, Paul clearly describes a private, devotional use of tongues as well as a public use, but he uses the same phrase (speaking in tongues) for both.
In Scripture, the Holy Spirit seems to leave Himself plenty of leeway for how the spiritual gifts will manifest and operate among various believers, or at various times. The Holy Spirit does not box Himself in, and therefore, neither should we.
5) Why don’t tongues sound like a real language to me? Several different possibilities for this are explored in the book. It could have to do with similarities (or the lack thereof) between one’s native tongue and the tongue being spoken. It could also have to do with the level at which an individual (or even the body as a whole) is developed in their use of the gift.
6) Why do some people’s tongues sound so repetitive? This topic is explored in detail in the Speaking in Tongues book. However, the short (and obvious) answer is that the tongue is repetitive because the speaker is saying the same thing over and over. Think about how many times we use the same words repetitively when praying in our native tongue: “Heavenly Father, Dear God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, thank you, please, help, bless, provide, lead, give us, etc.”
7) Can today’s believers speak or pray in an earthly language that is unknown to them? Believers in modern times share testimonies of praying or speaking in a tongue, only to have someone nearby come up and ask them how or where they learned Hebrew, Mandarin, Farsi, etc. This is what the Bible refers to when it says that tongues are a sign for unbelievers. The unbeliever is experiencing something miraculous which confirms the divine nature of the message, enabling them to see the truth of the Gospel.
Ministry leaders like John Bevere, Perry Stone, Sid Roth, and Pastor Chris Hodges, as well as modern missionaries, have shared well-documented testimonies of this taking place in current times. However, those same people note that this is not the only use of tongues the Holy Spirit gives to them. This testimony, of course, agrees with Scripture which describes speaking in tongues of angels, praying in a devotional prayer language, speaking in tongues as a miraculous sign, and speaking in tongues for someone else to interpret.
It’s possible that the Holy Spirit only allows people to hear in their own language. It’s possible that tongue speakers are actually speaking in an earthly language they’ve never learned. And it’s also possible that the Holy Spirit does both of those things at different times.
Again, this is an area where we have a tendency to want to box Him in and decide that we know exactly how He does it, or to declare that He must always do it a certain way. But in Scripture, He leaves the descriptions of these manifestations open to interpretation, and He never states that He will or won’t always do it a certain way.
He’s a very creative God. We have to get past our hangups, and our fleshly need to categorize and label everything. We have to let Him be creative.
We have to let Him be God.
8) How do I get started speaking in tongues? Getting started involves yielding yourself to the Lord, asking Him to give you spiritual gifts, and possibly having others pray over you to receive spiritual gifts. The chapter called “The Baptism of the Holy Spirit” should be quite helpful to you, and it is available for free in the download above. It is one of the chapters included in the free excerpt.
9) How do I get started interpreting tongues? The primary way to get started is to seek the Lord for this gift. He imparted the gift to Chris McKinney while Chris read through the initial manuscript of the Speaking in Tongues book. All Chris did was ask, which is actually all Scripture tells us to do. “Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret.” – 1 Corinthians 14:13 (ESV)
10) What does scientific research say about speaking in tongues? Scientific research confirms that the practice of speaking in tongues produces activity in the brain which is unlike any other known spiritual practice. Andrew Newberg, MD, has done some interesting research on speaking and praying in tongues. His research, as well as that of some others, is covered at a high level in the book.